Preparation pays with German glory 14 years in the planning
‘The longest journey begins with a single step’. As far as the German football federation (DFB) are concerned, the country’s World Cup victory was the result of a long-term strategy that was surreptitiously planned, with a clear vision, and implemented with purpose. Following their World Cup success, they are 5/1 favourites to emulate it in four years time.
Jurgen Klinnsman; pioneer, pragmatist, propogator. He alone instigated the turn in a nation’s fortunes. Responsible for taking German football by the scruff of the neck, having the gumption to literally pick up the fallen after a disappointing Euro 2000 campaign, and weed out non-performers. His blueprint was meticulous, carefully considered, ruthless and most of all daring.
In a booming economy, built on formidable industrial power and strength, the equivalent of approximately £1bn was ploughed with intensity and intelligence into the structure of German football. This move didn’t signify the government was ready to embrace the sports’ spirit, but indicated intent to reap a return on investment that money alone simply cannot buy. Togetherness of a nation and rising morale, stemming from awareness at the highest level, that a successful footballing strategy, domestically and nationally from grassroots higher, motivates the upward surge of a country’s worth.
There is a reason why Germany is home to the biggest financial institution in Europe; the European Central Bank (ECB). It’s social market economy has one of the most highly-skilled work forces, large capital stock, low corruption and a high level of innovation. Apply this to football and it becomes obvious that the template for a successful infrastructure was already embedded deep within the values of a collective German attitude, behaviour and culture.
Onto the scrapheap went the desperation tactics of the past that had succumbed so spectacularly to failure. Finishing bottom of their group at Euro 2000 was preceded by a 3-0 Croatian crushing at France ’98 in the quarter-finals two years earlier.
Perhaps instrumental to past failure was coach Rudi Voller’s lack of coaching qualifications. Klinnsman took the reins in 2004, though his involvement began four years earlier. One of the most iconic names since legends Gerd Muller and Franz Beckanbauer, the former Spurs player embarked on a mission of mercy.
Aggressive instigation of funds committed to a firm and systematic coaching system at grassroots level indicated a fundamental shift back to basics. Success requires sacrifice. At least six years had been set aside before the country would start seeing results materialise. It was all about the complete restructure and educational reform, taking the best bits from other countries, and introducing new concepts to build and recreate a new philosophy.
For the current senior national team at the turn of the century, and even players at Under-21 level, it was perhaps already too late for them. Breeding and training a next generation of personnel, blooded aesthetically and empathetically was rendered high priority. Progress for its sake needed to be prohibited in the immediate future. Typically touching on the old cliche of German engineering, on this scale, there are no quick fixes.
Aided by former teammate at national level, Oliver Bierhoff, and utilising the advice and assistance of former Die Mannschaft disciples, Beckenbauer and Lothar Mathaus, work began in earnest.
It was their train-set. Conducting a complete re-model of the German game domestically was paramount to plans. Taking a look at the Premier League in England; realising that it was a commodity, mainly driven by very good foreign players, which attracted huge television audiences, and lucrative sponsorship deals; it was their intention to re-create this without imports from other leagues. A Bundesliga that was renowned for producing the best players in the world, from high class coaching systems at every level, was effectively the dream. Strategic sustainability, seconded sequentially by strong, organic roots.
The ‘win at all costs’ philosophy for youngsters quickly became defunct. Small sided games, based on pass and move, awareness, close ball control, technique, skill and communication became the new order. More importantly awareness and enjoyment of the game underpinned everything else.
Mario Gotze, at just 22 years old, is a shining example, and a product moulded from all of the above. His goal in the World Cup final personified the kind of technique Klinnsman et al surely set out in his vision.
A part of Borussia Dortmund’s youth academy since the age of eight, he has lived and breathed the footballing revolution, ultimately transitioning into a polished gem. Now at Bayern Munich, Gotze will resume his tutelage under a world class coach in Pep Guardiola. After winning the Under-17 European Championships in 2009, he followed that up with a Bundesliga title in the 2011/12 season, with compatriots Marco Reus, Sven Bender, Ilkay Gundogan, and Mats Hummels. The latter, along with Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Howedes, and star goalkeeper Manuel Neuer were part of the Under-21 team that so impressively became Champions of Europe in 2009, beating England 4-0. All of those players, apart from the injured Khedira featured in the World Cup final.
Germany’s approach to football at senior international level, combined with the coaching the players have had so far is such now that manager Joachim Low can confidently apply differing tactics and tends to blend power, pace, pass and move to devastating effect. All of these traits were subsequently demonstrated in the 7-1 dismantling of Brazil in the semi-final. Attention now turns to Euro 2016, and Die Mannschaft are 7/2 favourites to lift the trophy.
The Bundesliga will only grow stronger. Having reduced ticket prices to get more people in to stadiums, and allowing clubs to subsidise travel to away games for their fans, this was all part of the plan to eventually reap rewards. It began at the lowest level. If you plant a seed in the ground and give it all the ingredients it needs, there will be a flourish in the blossoming effect. Nurture and hone, and the results become a thing of beauty. Germany’s league will pollinate soon, attracting the financial rewards that come in the form of sponsorship and advertising deals, and their football federation can look back at a job well done, with no short-cuts, but good old fashioned hard work, industry and a vision.
Success isn’t a destination; it never has been. It is a journey, and for Germany that is just beginning.